The evolution of post-secondary education in Louisiana emulates neither efficiency nor logic.
After World War II, other states began to create community college systems to provide technical training and to serve as feeder systems for universities. Louisiana embarked upon a far more chaotic approach. The Bayou State began to spawn “junior” colleges (which had no true technical training mission) and a plethora of four-year universities. The goal was not to have a limited number of high quality research and instructional institutions but to have “higher” education on almost every street corner.
Technical training was relegated to a huge system of “trade schools” run by what eventually became the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). These schools were, to be kind, substandard. Politics and patronage, not occupational demand, governed their operations. One example of that is the fact that for years, organized labor prevented any training for the building trades in these institutions.
The last piece of the post-secondary education puzzle to fall into place was Louisiana’s community college system. Its mission was designed to be a feeder system for the universities and a conduit for associate degrees in specialized and technical training. The system was immediately confronted with the problem of universities not accepting community college courses for credit. (Articulation for course credits between the systems—while somewhat improved—is still a problem today). At the onset of the creation of the community college system, the vo-tech system was removed from the control of BESE and placed under the management of a new system: the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS).
When the LCTCS was created, the number of management boards overseeing post-secondary education rose to five. The Board of Regents is supposed to have general oversight of all higher education. The LSU Board of Supervisors is the policy board for the LSU system. The Board of Trustees oversees the other state colleges except those in the Southern University system—which has its own board. This byzantine network of post-secondary governance was given to us by the new state constitution approved by the voters in 1974. The proposition gave voters an option for a single board or the system that we now have in place. Turf protection was rampant and as a result, we have a management system in place today that is counterintuitive.
There are 71 four-year university, community college, and technical training campuses in the state. It is extremely difficult to adequately fund such a system in good economic times—much less in the dire one like we find ourselves in at the moment. When the multiplicity of institutions is coupled with the five layers of management boards, the result is a post-secondary system that lacks focus and accountability.
There is little hope that the Legislature can come to agreement to right-size higher education, by making any significant reduction in the number of post-secondary institutions in Louisiana, even when budget shortfalls mean that mediocrity will expand in order to keep them all in existence. But maybe there is a fleeting chance to change the illogical system of post-secondary management and oversight in Louisiana.
A single board for at least the university level would be the best hope in that regard. If the governor is willing to give up his power to appoint members to all of those boards, perhaps it is time for the voters to get behind him and help him get it done. What we have now serves neither the students nor the taxpayers well.
Why not change it?